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Toxic Mold - FAQ

Q. What is mold?
A: Molds are a type of fungus. Mold is a natural component of both outdoor and indoor air. However, when molds germinate and grow, they can produce large amounts of spores. When these spores land on damp areas indoors, they may begin growing, including in areas that are not readily visible, such as between furniture and walls. You can control indoor mold growth by controlling the moisture in your home.In the last several years concern has arisen that elevated levels of mold spores in indoor living or working environments may increase the risk of adverse health effects, particularly respiratory problems.

Q: Are all molds harmful to health?
A: Some molds have a greater potential to be harmful than others. The common types of indoor mold include: Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, Aspergillus, and Mucor.

Studies have shown that mold exposure can trigger allergic reactions, asthma and respiratory difficulties. Symptoms include wheezing; difficulty breathing and shortness of breath; nasal and sinus congestion; irritated eyes; dry, hacking cough; irritated nose or throat; and skin rashes or irritation.

Q: What types of mold are considered "toxic" mold?
A: Stachybotrys chartarum (also known as Stachybotrys atra) is one of many types of black mold that may grow on water-damaged building materials. This mold requires a lot of water or moisture to grow, so finding it indoors indicates some significant moisture accumulation problems. It only grows on materials with high fiber and low nitrogen content, such as paper (including wallpaper and the paper covering of gypsum wallboard), wood or jute (frequently used for the backing of older carpets). This mold does not grow on shower tile or plastic. In the outdoor environment it is found in soil, rotting hay and leaf debris. This mold, among others, may produce mycotoxins - chemicals that discourage growth of other microorganisms and that may also cause health problems in people.

Q: What are mycotoxins?
A: While they are growing, some molds produce metabolic products that discourage or prevent bacteria or other fungi from growing in the same area. When those metabolic products also cause health problems in animals or humans, they are called mycotoxins (myco = fungal origin). Thus, mycotoxins are natural products from molds that may cause a toxic response in vertebrates when small amounts are eaten, inhaled or touched. Molds that are capable of generating toxins (called "toxigenic mold") do not always produce them in every situation. Scientists believe that certain very specific conditions must be present for a toxigenic mold to actually produce toxins -- including the right combination of temperature, moisture, and type of material the mold is growing on.

Q: Are there any tests that can tell if I have been exposed to mycotoxins?
A: No, there are no laboratory tests of blood, urine or other body components that can determine if a person has been exposed to mycotoxins. Blood can be tested for antibodies to some specific types of fungi. However, these tests only determine if a person who has become allergic to fungi has been exposed recently to that specific type of fungus. Allergy tests cannot determine if a person has been exposed to fungal toxins.

Q: Can the amounts of mold be measured in a home?
A: There are currently no tests available through commercial laboratories to determine if mold toxins are present in the air or on surfaces in a home or workplace. Test methods that are currently available are used for research purposes and are not applicable to home or workplace situations. Decisions to clean up mold and precautions to take during the clean-up process do not require knowledge about the presence of mycotoxins. If there is visible mold or a moldy odor in a room, then there is a mold problem that needs to be addressed.

Q: How can mold be eliminated indoors?
A: There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture. However, there are a few steps that can be followed to reduce the amount of mold or prevent it from growing:

  • It is important to dry water-damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
  • If mold is a problem in your home, clean up the mold and get rid of the excess water or moisture.
  • Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water.
  • Wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
  • Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles & carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced.
  • In areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem, do not install carpeting (i.e., near drinking fountains, close to classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).
  • Reduce indoor humidity (to 30-60%) to decrease mold growth by: venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; using air conditioners and de-humidifiers; increasing ventilation; and using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.

Q: Have there been any lawsuits over toxic mold?
A: Many homeowners who experience significant damage to their homes or health problems have received large jury verdicts and settlements, many in the million-dollar range. For example, in Delaware a landlord was held liable for more than a million dollars because he negligently did not fix water leaks in the apartment, which resulted in the growth of toxic mold and health problems for tenants. In California, a contractor's poor construction caused water leaks that contributed to the growth of mold, causing serious health problems for the homeowners. The verdict was more than a million dollars.

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